What we learned from raising Monarch butterflies this summer

What we learned from raising Monarch butterflies this summer.
Published: Sep. 5, 2020 at 5:47 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - When my family brought home two Monarch butterfly larvae to raise and watch grow this summer, we didn’t realize we’d be embarking on a lesson that would shift the way we think about the change so many of us are seeing in the country.

At the start of August, we put two caterpillars in a jar with some fresh milkweed, a stick and some netting at the top. During late summer in the Northern United States, these larvae can be found all over munching on milkweed.

I set out on this project desperate just to keep the little guys alive. Once I got the hang of identifying milkweed on the side of the road, there wasn’t much to keeping them, except for constant cleaning of their jars. The caterpillars’ milkweed diet makes them poisonous to predators and the bright colors they will eventually develop as butterflies makes them easy to identify. My daughter, Lucy, liked to say they were “drinking” their milkweed. We’re still working on that concept.

For up to two weeks, they will eat continuously. We watched them shed some skin as they grew, a sign they were getting closer to their next big phase of development. Four days after we brought our first caterpillar home, we found the chrysalis it spun on the underside of a leaf. Using a straight pin, we detached the thick silk pad it uses to attach the chrysalis to the leaf. Dental floss can be used to tie around the black part, called the pupa, of the chrysalis to a bare stick to watch the next steps clearly.

It typically takes 10-14 days for the metamorphosis to complete in the chrysalis. Our first butterfly spent 12 days inside. We gave it a little more than hour to dry its wings before it was ready to fly, beginning what can be a 3,000-mile journey to California or Mexico for the winter months. A portion will make it back North to start the process over again.

I wonder if our little experiment will be anything my two-year-old will ever recall. But, I think I’ll remember what we learned here. Next year, when the butterflies return to lay their eggs, the world may look far different. The little girl searching for caterpillars will be changing and growing, as well. And yet, the opportunity will return to find peace in narrowing our focus to one single miracle unfolding before our eyes. There will be the wonder we’ll feel to behold such a transformation. And there will be hope we’ll keep to watch it again.

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